Short answer -- That's an unfair question!
But it's worth some thought.
On Monday, December 21st, I hosted an IG live discussion with Cynthia Silverstein, who is the co-owner of Optical Underground based in San Francisco. We talked about what it means to build and sustain a "purposeful" business, putting people before profits, and close to the end of the discussion she raised an interesting question. She talked about her daughter's experience in her workplace and feeling as though her fellow women colleagues were not there to support her when she needed it most. In fact, in that specific experience, women were the perpetrators of toxicity in the workplace. She asked about the responsibility we have as women to support other women.
It was a question that caught me off guard. I wasn't expecting it, and it probably requires an entire panel of experts taking hours and hours to really dig deep into it with care. I am a huge advocate of women working together to create synergistic change that will ultimately benefit us all. But I am not perfect, and I am sure that there are women that I have encountered over my 20+ year career that have felt that I, too, could have done better to support them.
It got me thinking about how loosely we use the phrase "women supporting women," when it is necessary, and when it's not. I spent ~20 years in the global finance industry, which is male-dominated, so finding women to support my journey - especially early on in my career - was a rarity. There were times when I felt conflicted engaging with female colleagues that were not performing at the level expected of them. What do you do then? Will you be deemed a toxic female employee when you are truthful in your assessment of another female employee that hasn't pulled their weight?
On the flip side, I've seen cases where there are few women at the table and the one that is there is clearly territorial about her perch. In my younger years, I would have admonished her as being selfish, but now I look at these instances with more nuance. There are times when the woman that has the seat at the table is sitting on a chair that has 2 legs instead of 4. She is at a disadvantage at that table, and she is engaging in stealth gymnastics just to keep from falling over. She's adept at hiding her struggle but she doesn't have the power to create space for another woman. It may seem as though she's being territorial, but she's merely engaged in a battle to survive.
Please understand that I am not absolving women who viciously fight against the causes of other women in life or in the workplace. As Madeleine Albright said, "There is a special place in hell for women who don't help other women," BUT this needs to be put in context. I firmly believe that we are all better as women when we support one another and help each other succeed. I also believe it's got to be success and advancement that helps ALL women and not just some. Some women are agents for patriarchy and because they enjoy privilege that the system has afforded them, a massive sea change for women could work to weaken their individual power. So, they work against women. These are a special breed of women that I tweeted about last year:
All this to say that it isn't a straight up easy answer to "do women really support other women?" In my job as founder of Bossy Cosmetics, I have found women to be unbelievably supportive! The majority of my customers are women, and they have helped to propel this brand to where it is now (and where we plan to go!). Fellow female founders have come to my aid when I needed advice, and they have given profusely. At least once a week, I will get a DM that literally makes my heart sing with glee at the feelings that our brand and products bring to people's lives! My network of sister-friends have been my oxygen in these weeks and months where being a full-time caregiver of my three sons while running a business as almost broken me! The inspiration and support of women that I know and women that I don't know has been IMMEASURABLE. I definitely have been blessed by women - starting with my mom and aunts - and continue to enjoy the benefits of women who ensure that my life and business are rich.
So the answer to the question is a resounding YES from me, but let's not get confused about the fact that there are many women who don't live by that code. We hope that they turn a new leaf or ask for help.
If you want to watch the IG Live that got me thinking, you can watch it below.